MU will soon provide support to Ghanaian farmers and agencies to help reduce poverty and hunger in the area.
The University of Missouri Assistance Program officially announced its registration as an international Non-Governmental Organization in the West-African country, effective Aug. 16.
The program, which is managed by the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, will increase Ghana’s agricultural productivity by providing training, research assistance and technical expertise to local farmers, Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture and U.S. government relief agencies, according to a CAFNR news release.
Improving Ghana’s agricultural extension system, or the communication of agricultural research from the researchers to farmers, is one of the major challenges the program will need to tackle, said Julia Shuck, an MU graduate who spent six months with another NGO in Ghana after graduating.
Ghana’s agricultural extension programs have been problematic due to the lack of proper infrastructures, human resources and a unified system of language, Shuck said.
“In the U.S., every county has an extension office with experts who can go out and help farmers,” Shuck said. “The issue in Ghana is that there is one extension agent for every 13,000 farmers. These extension agents are unable to develop a close connection between the researchers and the farmers because they are spread out so thin.”
Even though more than half of Ghana’s 25 million people farm, lack of proper agricultural infrastructure and extension services make future food security a growing concern for Ghana, said Joe Horner, an extension economist at CAFNR.
“Their agricultural colleges and farmer institutes were established in the 1960s, and since that time, little new investment has gone into the agricultural sector, while the population has tripled,” Horner said.
MU’s involvement will make it the first university-based NGO to operate in Ghana. Shuck emphasized the importance of a long-term Missouri presence in the country for making connections with the locals.
“A lot of people will not take you seriously if you are in and out for a few days at a time,” Shuck said. “Many professors from different universities would come in for a couple of weeks, and tell people what to do based on their limited knowledge. It doesn’t always help because they don’t know the local situation.”
William Meyers, director of CAFNR International Programs, said that having a Missouri presence in the country will convince the locals to be more willing to work with the program.
“Being there shows that we are serious about engaging the pressing issues and allows us to respond when there is an opportunity to get involved,” Meyers said.
During her time working in Ghana, Shuck aided local farmers in writing reports and taking photographs to send to the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future program. She also encouraged Ghanaian farmers to not only farm for sustenance but to increase crop yield and sell the excess crops for education and health care.
“A lot of these farmers are living at the poverty line to begin with,” Shuck said. “There are no social safety nets to catch these people if they have a bad year. If they have a drought, for an example, there goes their food for a year.”
Ghana is not the first country the assistance program worked with as an NGO. CAFNR has had a presence in Kenya since 2003, primarily providing training programs to locals and aid workers.
Meyers said he is confident in the program’s future in Ghana.
“I am encouraged by the fact there were a lot of interest and support for having a Missouri presence there,” Meyers said. “Ghana had appeared on our radar as a good place to send assistance and seeing positive results.”